The health effects of video games have been discussed and debated since the dawn of the interactive entertainment industry way back in the '70s, and while there have been a great many studies that highlight the positive impact games have on people, the ones which focus on the negative usually make a bigger splash in the mainstream media.
The most recent example of this comes from UK newspaper The Telegraph, which has published a piece entitled ‘Spiritual opium: could gaming addiction ruin a generation?’ The article has piggybacked off a recent statement made by the Chinese state media that compares video games to "electronic drugs".
The Telegraph argues that children are become normalised to the use of screens via smartphones, tablets and "classroom iPads" and that this could be "potentially harmful to teenage brains". Gaming is picked out as a particularly addictive form of screen time, and the piece states that "it’s time all of us woke up to the ‘opioid’ possibility of gaming, before teenage screen addiction becomes another global pandemic".
The Telegraph also speaks to author Abi Silver, who recently published a work of fiction – The Midas Game – in which two lawyers defend a gamer and YouTube celebrity accused of killing an "eminent anti-gaming psychiatrist".
Speaking in the article, Silver claims that her son became “obsessed with the addictive, dopamine-releasing game” Fortnite, adding:
I was shocked, and indignant, that there was something out there, unregulated and freely available to our kids, which was considered highly dangerous but nobody was doing anything about it. It was like someone was coming into my son’s bedroom at night and injecting him with an addictive drug.
The Telegraph has predictably come under fire about the piece, which boasts potentially misleading figures relating to the number of people suffering from "gaming disorder" – which is now recognised by The World Health Organisation as a legitimate issue that, the Telegraph estimates, some "86 million people" are afflicted with.
However, figures obtained by The Guardian (thanks, VGC) via freedom of information requests showed that just 56 people entered treatment for gaming addiction between January and May in the UK this year, out of a gaming population of around 40 million people.
It’s disappointing to see pieces like this extensively misrepresenting games. It both unfairly demonises the 37 million people across the UK who find games to be a relaxing source of healthy entertainment and undermines evidence-based efforts to support the very small number of people who do need help managing play.
We are a responsible, regulated industry that has demonstrated it takes concerns seriously by running campaigns such as our Get Smart About PLAY initiative to support safe and sensible play. We will continue to take this responsible approach and keep educating players and parents about all aspects of play over at www.askaboutgames.com.